Market forces best regulators for aligning cement and concrete with Paris Accord

Associated Builders & Contractors officials emphasize regulatory reform in their endorsement of President Trump for a second term. Nowhere is their praise more warranted—and substance of their observations better validated—than in his June 2017 withdrawal from the Paris Accord. Recall how that faux treaty, finalized in December 2015 under the United Nations Conference of Parties, held signatories to voluntary greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets through 2100. Carbon dioxide and other GHG thresholds were premised on climate change models spelling a global temperature rise no greater than 2°C.

Fulfilling a campaign promise while derailing a heavy-handed stunt his predecessor viewed in legacy terms, President Trump called the Accord “the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories, and vastly diminished economic production.”

Cement and concrete interests wise to market signals have since stepped up action to bend the industry’s carbon curve on a trajectory consistent with Paris Accord thresholds. The Global Cement and Concrete Association (GCCA), along with key members holding major North American market positions, have proactively detailed how practitioners can lower the portland cement clinker factor in a yard of concrete through supplementary cementitious materials and rethinking prescriptive water-cement ratios. The clinker factor is a leading benchmark owing to the net CO₂ emissions attending portland cement processing and energy-intensive grinding. The Paris Accord’s post-U.S. phase has also seen much innovation in CO₂ capture and use at cement mills and power generating stations, and in concrete production through CarbonCure Technologies.

GCCA bills its “2050 Climate Ambition” as the first proclamation for lowering the “carbon footprint of the world’s most man-made material.” The statement outlines a 30-year route to carbon neutral concrete slabs and structures. Members seek to streamline clinker factors and foster new accounting mechanisms that quantify CO₂ uptake, life cycle energy, plus other data points design or engineering professionals seek as means of addressing carbon-wise building owner concerns.

LafargeHolcim U.S. Cement is rebranding blended binders and supplementary cementitious materials, including the OneCem portland-limestone cement, under the Envirocore Series banner. Last month, the parent company become the first global building materials operator to join the “Business Ambition for 1.5°C” campaign. Over the next decade, LafargeHolcim Ltd. aims for a CO₂ intensity benchmark of 475 kg net per ton of cementitious material. Most immediately, the producer will partner with campaign organizer, Science Based Targets initiative, on a roadmap for aligning cement sector climate targets to a “1.5°C future.”

Lehigh Cement is boosting promotion of EcoCem PLC. The portland-limestone blend will be supported with the first Environmental Product Declaration prepared in accordance with the new Product Category Rule for Portland, Blended, Masonry, Mortar and Plastic (Stucco) Cements. Also known as Cement PCR 2.0, the document encourages users “to quantify, report, better understand and reduce the environmental impacts of cement” and “promote transparency.”

Just ahead of the EcoCem PLC and Envirocore announcements, CalPortland Co. unveiled two charter offerings under Advancement, a line of blended portland-limestone cements with an embodied carbon level about 10 percent below that of common ASTM C 150 materials. The new powders can be combined with other carbon-reducing technologies to further enhance concrete performance and continually lower the net CO₂ emissions of finished slabs and structures.

The ultimate impact of North American market leaders and fellow GCCA members could well match or exceed GHG emissions reduction measures paralleling the Paris Accord. It won’t be the first time producers deliver better outcomes when driven by market demands instead of government edicts.